Pitching-starved Royals have found a gem in Felipe Paulino

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One of the things holding the Royals’ rebuilding effort back despite a steady influx of young talent is their lack of quality starting pitching, as former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar has a 5.39 career ERA at age 28 and 23-year-old Danny Duffy blew out his elbow after showing lots of promise.

Kansas City’s starters rank 27th in ERA this season after ranking 29th last season and 29th in 2010. That makes it tough to contend regardless of how well the young hitting talent fares, but the Royals appear to have snagged at least one high-upside arm for the rotation in right-hander Felipe Paulino.

Paulino always had a big-time fastball and good strikeout rates, but they came along with spotty control, trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, and lots of health issues for the Astros and then briefly the Rockies. Colorado designated him for assignment in May of last season, eventually trading him to Kansas City for cash considerations, and Paulino stepped into the Royals’ rotation with great results ever since.

He made 20 starts last season and has made four starts this year since missing April with a forearm injury, throwing a total of 150 innings with a 3.66 ERA and 148/55 K/BB ratio. During that time Paulino’s average fastball of 95.2 miles per hour is the third-highest velocity in baseball and he’s improved his control from terrible to merely bad while serving up just 11 homers in 634 plate appearances. And that’s while moving from the NL to the AL.

Stockpiling young pitching prospects only to see a 28-year-old acquired for some petty cash emerge as the team’s best starter wasn’t exactly the Royals’ plan, but right now Paulino looks capable of being a long-term building block for a rotation that desperately needs one.

Cole Hamels done for year after just 1 start for Braves

Cole Hamels triceps injury
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ATLANTA — After making just one start for the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels is done for the season.

Hamels reported shortly before the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins that he didn’t feel like he could get anything on the ball. The left-hander was scheduled to make his second start Tuesday after struggling throughout the year to overcome shoulder and triceps issues.

The Braves placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Sept. 18,, but that was a mere formality. General manager Alex Anthopoulos already contacted Major League Baseball about replacing Hamels in the team’s postseason player pool.

“Cole knows himself and his body,” Anthopoulos said. “You trust the player at that point when he says he can’t go.”

The Braves began Monday with a three-game lead in the NL East .and primed for their third straight division title.

Even with that success, Atlanta has struggled throughout the shortened 60-game series to put together a consistent rotation beyond Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson.

Expected ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending injury, former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was demoted after just one start, and Sean Newcomb also was sent to the alternate training site after getting hammered in his four starts.

The Braves have used 12 starters this season.

Anthopoulos had hoped to land another top starter at the trade deadline but the only deal he was able to make was acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles. He’s on the injured list after getting hammered in three starts for the Braves, giving up 22 hits and 16 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

“There’s no doubt that our starting pitching has not performed to the level we wanted it to or expected it to,” Anthopoulos said. “I know that each year you never have all parts of your club firing. That’s why depth is so important.”

Hamels, who signed an $18 million, one-year contract last December, reported for spring training with a sore shoulder stemming from an offseason workout.

When camps were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamels was able to take a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation. But a triceps issue sidelined again before the delayed start of the season in July.

The Braves hoped Hamels would return in time to provide a boost for the playoffs. He also was scheduled to start the final game of the regular season Sunday, putting him in position to join the postseason rotation behind Fried and Anderson.

Now, Hamels is done for the year, his Braves’ career possibly ending after he made that one appearance last week in Baltimore. He went 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, with two strikeouts and one walk in a loss to the Orioles.

Hamels reported no problems immediately after his start, but he didn’t feel right after a bullpen session a couple of days ago.

“You’re not going to try to talk the player into it,” Anthopoulos said. “When he says he isn’t right, that’s all we need to hear.”

Atlanta recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson to replace Hamels on the 28-man roster. The Braves did not immediately name a starter for Tuesday’s game.

With Hamels out, the Braves will apparently go with Fried (7-0, 1.96), Anderson (3-1, 2.36) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.74) as their top three postseason starters.

Hamels is a four-time All-Star with a career record of 163-122. He starred on Philadelphia’s World Series-winning team in 2008 and also pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Cubs.